Interview with Cesare Galli, CEO, FB Mondial and Ajinkya Firodia, MD, Motoroyale

Interview with Cesare Galli, CEO, FB Mondial and Ajinkya Firodia, MD, Motoroyale

Sudipto Chaudhury

Interview by Aninda Sardar

India is not a natural market for a manufacturer like you. So what made you to come to India?

Cesare Galli (CG): There is a huge opportunity to grow. India is a big market and a new potential market to watch and understand and see what should be the next target for us. The moment we have cooperation with Ajinkya, we started from to think about how to enter the market. At the moment, we are importing the full bike under CKD; we are watching probably in the future how to make a product to match the Indian requirement in terms of a product, keeping our own DNA in the design of the vehicle.

So you just mentioned DNA. What exactly is the FB Mondial DNA?

CG: Mondial is a historical company, it was one of the companies that continued to develop the four-stroke engine, when the technology was moving more towards two-stroke. Mondial is well-known for extraction of new technologies and special finish on the bike. In fact, since the 1950s if you think about a good product, it’s the Mondial bike.

So you revived the brand in 2014…

CG: Since 2014 we restarted the brand, but we have been working in the motorcycle field since 1984. In 2014 we collaborated with Count Boselli to re-enter the Mondial brand in the market.

What led to that decision? Why did you, after such a long time, decided to bring it all back?

CG: The Boselli family did not want to sell out the brand to someone else if there isn’t a product on the ground. With the correct story and correct product, they wouldn’t give license to anybody else. At that time I was ready to think of a correct product with a link to the past based on the new technology and new trend of design. Based on this, I and my brand, convinced Count Boselli that it’s an interesting enough product. So in ’14 we thought about it, made a presentation on it by end of ’15 and started the production by ’16 and now the business is quite successful. We have important share in the biggest European market, like Germany, France, Spain, Italy and UK.

Ajinkya Firodia (AF): The beauty is that they took one year to come up with the design and only seven months to get it to manufacturing, which we see outside. The whole is such that truly we see an Italian thought and fine, focused product. If you compare the old pictures of an old FB Mondial and a new one, you can say that it is an upgraded modern retro bike.

As you know, there’s a resurgence of modern classics or retros. All of them have some link to the past, but you can classify them as either a café racer or scrambler or street bike. This is different.

CG: It’s too easy to say to make a new product, I look around…scramblers…café racers…and sports bikes…but which category should I follow? This one is something that does not exist. So instead of opening our eyes, we closed them and thought of the main points of the past in terms of design, what should be the new, combined them together and came up with a new product.

But why 300, when you’ve got a 250 in there

CG: Because originally the bike was to be a 300. We started to promote it as a 300, but for some internal reason we reduced it to 250, but did not change the name that we thought of in the beginning. The bike is named HPS300, that’s the name. It’s not 300cc, because in our mind, this is the name of the bike.

Between 1972 and 2014; 2016 is when you had a bike on the production line. That’s a long gap. Was it easy or challenging to get FB Mondial back in the minds of people?

CG: If you see the bike, your curiosity will cause you to see what Mondial was in the past. So you need to understand what the bike is. It’s something new, something strange, something different. You will want to know more about the brand. Ah…’49, ’50, ’51 World Champion… 57 they entered in 250 category, again world champion. You would want to see the production bikes from those years, and then will want to see the new bikes too. The new ones will seem different, but a few parts will seem very similar, or a view from some angle will seem very similar. We bring the original design to everyone, under technology, new materials. It’s completely new, not something updated, like a retro or classic bike that has been redesigned. This is a totally original design

AF: Yesterday I was with another young Italian. I told him that you (FB Mondial) are coming and he knew about the brand. He said it’s a very big brand. So I think in Europe people still remember it. But in India it’s completely new, nobody knows about it.

Which brings me to my next question? How challenging will it be for you to create awareness for the brand?

CG: I think that comes from his answer, the product is so unique, it raises a lot of curiosity. It goes viral because of its looks. We recently participated in a show in Mumbai. At that time too, everyone was very curious about it. And the pricing is also on the  lower end of our spectrum (Rs 3.37 lakh), so it’s in the reach of more people compared to the MV Agusta.

You have 100 bookings already. Congratulations.

AF: Thank you, we’re aiming for much higher. And it’s all because of curiosity, and this time the product will make the brand. And once people are aware of the brand, and know that it makes stylish, different products, we can do anything we want with the brand.

But how do you differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack? Royal Enfield priced the Interceptor phenomenally well, and their pull is also heritage. Same goes for Triumph’s modern classic range or for Ducati’s Scrambler range and even your own Norton. How are you going to differentiate in the marketing? 

AF: Royal Enfield is an Indian bike, made in India and everyone knows it. Royal Enfield is not bought for the “British brand legacy”, people don’t even care about it. It’s otherwise a great bike and a huge success story. As of now we’re not Indian at all, we’re fully imported, we’re Italian and British brands all exotic and none of the brands in the Motoroyale portfolio compete with each other or even within the market space. SWM has no competition, neither does Mondial. I’m trying to create the brand value of Motoroyale as exotic, different products which do not compete as of now. In the future, once those brands’ values have been established, only then will we keep the FB Mondial differentiation, and hopefully make a play where the consumers get the differentiation, at an even better value-for-money. That’s the idea.

On the subject of multi-brand platform, you’re the only one in the country right now, selling out of the same showroom, and you’re now gradually turning it into a success story. How did you come across the idea?

AF: That’s a very difficult and emotional question. Three or four years ago, I felt that I need to do something in motorcycles. We have our history and legacy, with the Italjets and Kinetic Hondas and so on, so it’s very clear we cannot do commuter bikes. At the same time, the superbike segment was growing. If you look at it in a purely business perspective, I don’t think any other dealer makes much money. The market’s still very small. Secondly, all bikers are different. There are so many categories in superbikes. It is not like a commuter bike, like scrambler or classic or cruiser or naked. So, the customers deserve a range. All customers have to be attracted. Also, in Europe and worldwide, they’re all multi-brand. It’s an Indian thing not to be multi-brand.

Is it difficult to cater to two very different kinds of customers? From a training perspective, or an inventory perspective to cater to vastly different customers?

AF: The most difficult challenge is marketing, because if you show range to customers, it confuses them. Also, the marketing for every product is different. Nobody simply comes up to a showroom to pick up the SWM. For SWM you have to ride and adventure track and see how brilliant the bike is. So we have to do events like the one in Mumbai, where we trained people and gave them the riding experience, whereas the FB Mondial is clearly mass and college, young crowd and the MV  Agusta is clearly the richest guy in the biking group. So outside the showroom we have to promote individually, whereas inside the showroom it’s more about being in separate corners and keeping separate sections to be able to identify. Inventory is not so complicated. In 2-3 months we know the potential, so we know to keep one month’s inventory. So the main challenge is always marketing.

My next question to you Cesare. We see a unique phenomenon where the young crowd, which is usually sold on new clothes and new gadgets, gravitate towards bikes that look like they were made in the past. Why do you think that’s happening?  

CG: This is the trend of the moment. In every field, it’s like this where you make a product then it gets old, and then you renew it and it just keeps rotating. So it’s cyclical.

AF: It’s also, I think, a culture thing, with manufacturers making retro bikes in Europe, where biking and automobiles are driven by emotions and passions. They’re nostalgic and hence the trend goes that way. Japan, on the other hand, is more engineering-based. They take the trend, and make it more value-for-money.

It’s very interesting that you should mention this, as even with the Japanese now, they seem to be going backwards in design, like the new CB1000R, which used to be a street-naked is now a neo-retro.

AF: But I think they take the trend cues from the European bikes and then engineer it. In India however, a section of society equates retro with old, the sense of nostalgia that Europeans have isn’t that deep-rooted here.

CG: Very important for us also when we think about the bike, we don’t offer to the consumer a commuter or something that takes you from A to B. It should give an emotion and joy during the ride.

It should move your heart…

CG: Exactly. You should be happy while going somewhere, because you use a vehicle that gives you a good feeling when you ride it.

So, what next for FB Mondial? You’ve got the 125 and the 300. What next?

CG: We’re still thinking about it. Our team is working hard on a new product coming in with a midsize engine. But it’s still too early for details.

In the 50s, 60s and 70s, FB Mondial was a technology leader. Right now your product looks back to the past. Would your next product be looking at the future, bringing in something new or will it be a legacy product?

CG: What we want to do is to not follow existing line. It’s easy to say that the market is going in one direction, and we’re following that, but we want to make our own interpretation of the people’s wishes, and we’ll follow that.

AF: In the short term, FB Mondial is going to come up, as early as this year, with exciting variants of the HPS300 which I cannot talk about right now, except that they’re completely different and very beautiful. IN the medium term, we’ll go with the “heart” and think of different engine platforms higher up in the 500 cc category; and in the long term we want to determine how we can take the FB Mondial product values and gel it with the Indian or Asian sensibilities and whether to make chunks of the bike in India.

Five brands, nine products. What next for Motoroyale?

AF: Dealer distribution expansion. We have seven dealer opened up, we had only two before and now we want to reach 20 dealers by 2019 end. In terms of business, we need a different strategy for every brand we have currently has variants coming up. So that’s what we’ll focus on.

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